Saturday, May 17, 2014

She's angry







Starting with veterans issues, US House Rep Eddie Bernice Johnson told her local Fox4 News today that she has been receiving complaints from veterans in her district about problems getting medical appointments in a timely fashion.  She explained this is not just one or two veterans and the problem appears persuasive.  She contacted Veterans Affairs' Office of Inspector General to report the allegations and they have already sent a representative to the Dallas VA earlier this week to investigate the allegations.

She tells Fox4, "Just the other day, we received additional calls that [they] were ordered to shred records and I reported that right away to the Inspector General."

The Congress woman's region is only the latest across the nation to experience this problem.

Yesterday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee heard from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki as the Committee explored the information VA whistle-blowers have revealed: The VA has two lists for medical appointments.

The first list is entered in computers and is the official list VA officials point to for bonuses and raises -- and Shinseki and other high ranking officials cite when painting rosy pictures for Congress. It suggests that the VA is responsive and pro-active, actively working to ensure that veterans get medical attention within 14 days of requesting an appointment.

It's a happy little fairy tale that goes like this, "Once upon a time, the VA was plagued with problems and scandals but along came Sir Eric Shinseki, the brave knight, to vanquish the problems and scandals."

In the real world, however, there is a second list, a secret list kept 'off book' where veterans wait weeks, months and years for the medical help they need.  It is said that 40 veterans died due to the VA medical center in Phoenix, Arizona's use of these secret lists.

Yesterday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee attempted to get answers or even a course of immediate action and they only thing they received from Shinseki was an endless series of non-answers and non-responses.  We covered the hearing in yesterday's snapshot, Ruth covered it in "Senator Richard Blumenthal says call in the F.B.I.," Kat covered it in "Shinseki needs to be fired," Ava covered it in "Shineski (Ava)" and Wally covered it in "More talk, no action (Wally)."

Thursday, Shinseki appeared to dodge questions and today he appears to have attempted to trick and deceive the American people.  Bryant Jones ( wrote early today, "The head of Veteran Affairs Health Care resigned Friday following allegations that scheduling delays had led to 40 deaths at an Arizona VA hospital."  Jones was referring to the VA's Dr. Robert Petzel, Undersecretary for Health Care.  Jones we give the benefit of the doubt.  We don't extend that courtesy to MSNBC's Amanda Sakuma.  Not because she writes for MSNBC but because she writes poorly.. Not only does she repeat the lie that Petzel resigned due to the scandal, she gets a number of other key details wrong.  Someone introduce her to CBS News since she either is mistaken or lying by claiming that Phoenix is the only facility accused of running a real list and a fake list. Tuesday, for example, Wyatt Andrews (CBS News -- link is text and video) reported on the whistle-blower coming forward to make similar claims regarding an Illinois VA center.  Similar to the wait lists at the Phoenix VA -- two sets, the real one and the cover one to make it look like vets are getting timely treatment -- Chicago steps into the spotlight.  Whistle-blower Germaine Clarno has stepped forward.

As the day wore on, people began to feel lied to as it was noted Shinseki turned in his notice last September (he's retiring) and Barack had already nominated Dr. Jeffrey Murawsky to be the new Undersecretary for Health Care.

Pete Kasperowicz (The Blaze) quotes three people on Shinseki's attempted con.  The Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller states, "Today's announcement from VA regarding Undersecretary Robert Petzel's 'resignation' is the pinnacle of disingenuous political doublespeak.  Petzel was already scheduled to retire in 2014 and President Obama has already announced his intention to nominate Petzel's replacement, so characterizing this as a 'resignation' just doesn’t pass the smell test."  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Tom Tarantino is quoted stating, "To be clear, Dr. Petzel's resignation is not the step toward accountability that our members need to see from VA leaders.  Anyone who has been following this situation knows that Dr. Petzel had already announced his retirement earlier this year."  The American Legion's Daniel Dellinger is quoted declaring, "This move by VA is not a corrective action, but a continuation of business as usual. Dr. Petzel was already scheduled to retire this year, so his resignation now really won’t make that much of a difference."

A veteran with a veterans VSO discussed Shinseki's appearance before the Committee at length with me today.  He is also grossly offended by Senator Bernie Sanders.  As Wally pointed out in his report, after the hearing Sanders went on CNN and was so craven in toadying up to the VA that host Chris Cuomo even pointed it out.  My friend does not feel Sanders stuck up for veterans in the hearing either.

He feels Sanders made a strong statement in the opening ("when all the press was present") and then "faded quickly."  He's not alone in feeling that way.  I spoke to four other veterans present to get their take on Bernie Sanders' performance as Chair on Thursday and no one's impressed.

I noted that everyone -- in the snapshot yesterday, I noted -- on the Committee spoke at length to express outrage.  They did.  But as my friend points out, Bernie Sanders faded quickly.

Reviewing my notes and evaluating the points made by five veterans present for the hearing, I will state that my opinion was wrong -- or whatever term you want to apply (opinions aren't 'wrong,' they're opinions but I will state mine was wrong) -- the points made by those offering input today were valid.  I painted with broadstrokes and probably with relief (after press predictions that a huge split was going to take place on the Committee).  That was wrong, my apologies for that.

I can be wrong and often am.

Reviewing the notes, I'd say this stands out the most, "One of the concerns that I have to be very honest is that there has been a little bit of a rush to judgment."

The most repeated criticism of Sanders was that he was deferential to the VA and swept veterans under the rug.  If you're going to make that criticism, I'd argue that line from Sanders ("One of the concerns that I have to be very honest is that there has been a little bit of a rush to judgment.") captures it.

40 veterans may be dead because of the VA's actions.  And Bernie's big concern is "a rush to judgment"?

Equally true, the biggest outrage expressed about veterans being denied timely health care should come from the Chair.  In the conversations with the five veterans, it was noted that Ranking Member Richard Burr demonstrated real passion on the topic.  It was noted that Senator Patty Murray doesn't raise her voice but gets chilly when extremely bothered "and she went freezer on Petzel."  Senators Mark Begich and Dean Heller were also noted as conveying how unacceptable the crisis was.  Senator Richard Blumenthal's call for the FBI was noted by three as needed.  But no one bought that Sanders was putting veterans first.

"Great opening statement that then went nowhere."

I am fine with disagreeing with any of the five or all of them.  And they know that.  But as they made their case, I didn't find myself disagreeing.  I was wrong, they are correct.

One pointed out, and this is a very important point on this topic, that Sanders has promised "hearings."

"When," the veteran asked, "has Sanders ever held hearings?  We're lucky to get a hearing on one topic with him.  Hearings?  Do you really see him devoting any real time to this?  We'll be lucky to get one more hearing on this topic.  And you can talk about his acupuncture and yoga issues for the hearing last month [April 30th] but the reality is his pet causes don't trump dead veterans.  When this became the topic in the news, his pet causes should have been put on hold.  In that hearing, he promised there would be a serious hearing on the wait lists but I don't feel he offered anything serious in yesterday's hearing."

Excusing the VA in the CNN interview did not help Sanders but the veterans can all point to moments in the hearing where they felt Sanders was placing VA officials over the health and lives of veterans.

On Thursday's hearing, US House Rep Jeff Miller's office issued the following:

May 15, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Following VA’s testimony at today’s Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Hearing and the temporary assignment of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to VA to oversee the department’s review of patient safety and appointment scheduling policies, Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement:
“After Sec. Shinseki’s out-of-touch performance today, it’s no wonder President Obama felt compelled to assign someone from the White House to help clean up the mess at the department. Had the president heeded our calls last year to help address the growing pattern of preventable deaths and patient safety incidents at VA medical centers across the country, perhaps VA would not find itself mired in the scandal it is today. While I appreciate the fact that the president has assigned a crisis manager to help deal with what is indeed a crisis, I have no confidence whatsoever an internal VA review will yield results that are either accurate or useful. VA officials in Washington have known about problems with medical care access for at least six years and have failed to fix them. That’s why the only way we can begin to fix VA’s delays in care problem is via an independent bipartisan commission. Anything less is unacceptable.   – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Chairman Miller letter to President Obama Requesting Bipartisan VA Medical Care Access Commission
May 13, 2014
Chairman Miller letter to President Obama
May 21, 2013

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